Once upon a time, there was this damn test invented by the Baron-Cohen Lab meant to measure an individual’s ability to read emotions from facial expressions. It was kind of a silly explosion. It’s real-life name is the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test,” and as of right now, GoogleScholar says that it has been cited over 2100 times since the “revised” edition was published in 2001. I have always been somewhat skeptical of this test, which 1. Contains only photos of white people, and 2. Includes only photos of young, heavily made-up, conventionally attractive women, whose expressions (according to the test) are “flirtatious,” “fantasizing,” “desire,” or “interested.” In case you aren’t familiar with the work of the Baron-Cohen Lab, they’re responsible for everyone’s favorite “Extreme Male Brain Theory” of autism.
So Dani and I thought it would be fun to get a few snarky/funny autistic women together to…give our more candid assessments of images from this test. The multiple-choice format of the original really cramps one’s style, you know? So I picked out a couple images from the original 36-image test (way. too. long.) and we asked a few friends to look through and give their best guesses as to the “emotional state” shown in each photo. Dani and I contributed as well, and then I went through and added the “correct” answer for each photo, according to the actual test.
This finished product is brought to you by me, Dani Alexis, Kassiane (Neurodivergent K), Melanie Yergeau, and Ibby Grace. And serious intellectual work. Very, very serious things. Seriousness. Critique things. ENJOY.
Emma: The oldest and saddest Keebler Elf in all the land.
Melanie: Is this Frasier’s dad?
Dani: If it is Frasier’s dad, why does he look so sad? OMG, DID SOMETHING HAPPEN TO EDDIE?!
Actual Test Answer: “Upset”
Dani: I knew it. Eddie’s dead. I’m so over this show.
Ibby: “How ‘bout this time: Did I do it? Did I raise one eyebrow by itself?”
Kassiane: Sad puppies envy this guy’s eyebrow game though. look at that.
Dani: “I asked for Audrey Hepburn eyebrows. Can you believe this is what they gave me?”
Kassiane: “Not actually interested in you, but if I laugh I may cry & this eyeliner in the eyes is the actual worst. So I’m just gunna keep staring & hope you go away.”
Emma: I believe this is a picture of that subtle, female emotion called “mascara.”
Melanie: “If I blink, I might die.”
Actual Test Answer: “Desire”
Ibby: “We all know you’re the one who farted, so you can quit pretending to sniff the room now.”
Dani: This is the “human eyes” equivalent of that life-essence-sucking machine in The Dark Crystal.
Emma: “I am a man with a dark side…No, literally, one side of my face is dark.”
(Emma: WAIT DANI I JUST REALIZED WHAT FIZZGIG [one of dani’s cats] IS NAMED AFTER. wow it has been a long time since i saw that movie.)
(Dani: YES HE IS A FRIENDLY MONSTER)
Melanie: This isn’t a face. It’s a topographical representation of the Canadian Cascades, with eyeballs superimposed over the mountain terrain.
Actual Test Answer: “Insisting.” (Emma: EWWWW)
Ibby: “Where did I put my contact solution?”
Kassiane: Don’t blink. Don’t even blink. Blink and you’re dead.
Dani: “This party is never. going. to. end.”
Emma: “Oh, yes. I am absolutely making sex eyes at you right now. These are the eyes I make about sex. With you. In fact, I’m thinking about having sex with you so intensely that I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes closed completely, like, really soon. Just so you know.”
(Dani: “Also, I cannot believe she married him. Seriously. What.”)
Melanie: “Guess what letter of the alphabet my name starts with.”
Ibby: “Do. Not. Sneeze. Deep breath. Don’t sneeze.”
Kassiane: No dude, I am not interested in you. How bored do I need to look for you to go away? Please just get the hint and go away without getting violent or pissy thank you?
Actual Test Answer: “Fantasizing.”
(Dani: The fact that Baron-Cohen keeps confusing “the glazed look women get when they want mansplainers to go away” with “female sexual interest or desire” says more than I ever wanted to know about Baron-Cohen’s dating life.)
Melanie: “I don’t always stare longingly into the distance, but when I do, it’s for manly things, like science, or hamburgers with doughnuts for buns.”
Dani: “You remind me of my dog I had when I was a boy. He was a good dog.”
Emma: “My name is Captain Cowboy Marlboro-Man Hemingway, but most people just call me ‘Dick.’”
Ibby: [Crunch] “Goldurnit. That’s the third pair of sunglasses I sat on this month.”
Actual Test Answer: “Despondent.”
Dani: If my cat were a human, this would be his expression whenever he saw us roll out the vacuum cleaner.
Emma: The Shifty Smize: Trademark Facial Expression of the Bush Administration.
Kassiane: “oh no, someone has noticed office supplies going missing. do they suspect me? no no no play it cool, play it cool”
Melanie: “My name is Eyes McEyebrows, and I approve of this message.”
Ibby: “Are you going to eat that last slice?”
Actual Test Answer: “Cautious.”
(Emma: Dani, your cat-reading game remains hella strong.)
(Dani: Husband calls me the Cat Whisperer. I’m actually just fluent in Cat. Cats don’t give a shit about your social niceties. Cats say what they fucking mean. PS: We call the vacuum cleaner “The Dread Sword Kittensbane.”)
Melanie: “My expression is so important that the background behind my head has been photoshopped out of this image. Spoiler alert: There were unicorns involved, and we all know that unicorns disproportionately impact observer bias.”
Dani: “Were THESE the Audrey Hepburn eyebrows you were looking for? Yeah. Yeah, they were.”
Emma: “I was looking at something else, and so I have oriented my body so that it is facing the thing I was looking at, but now I am glancing at you out of the corner of my eye, so that I don’t have to actually turn and face you to determine what random fucking thing you’re doing.”
Ibby: “Tell me one more time you want to ‘get you some of that’.”
Kassiane: “I am Bored White Woman Number 3.”
Actual Test Answer: “Interested.”
(Dani: But when *I* give people this side-eye (in order to see them better, ‘cause for some reason my visual processing doesn’t work straight-on), I’m “shifty” or “have an attitude.” Clearly I need to up my “smoky eyeliner” game if I want to indicate “interest.”)
Melanie: “It was I who ate the rest of the cereal. I, the one who cannot be bothered to say me.”
Emma: “VELVET THUNDER.”
Dani: ALEISTER CROWLEY
Ibby: “No really. It was my great great great grandfather modelling on the dollar bill. Here look: I’m the spitting image.”
Actual Test Answer: “Serious.”
Melanie: My gaze suggests you should click this link.
Emma: I see your link, and raise you another link.
Dani: Seriously, though, I think the only reason I’m reading this as “desire” is because I myself yearn for such mad eyeliner skillz.
Kassiane: I swear this is the same woman as a few pictures up.
Ibby: “Good Seasons Italian Dressing is…delicioso!”
Actual Test Answer: “Flirtatious.”
Just, you know, so we’re all clear on the details: The full, 36-image version of this test has been cited over 100 times a year since 2001, contains entirely white faces, and features multiple other female photos that the test asserts show expressions like “desire,” “interested,” “flirtatious,” and so forth.
YEAH DAMN DAT SOME REAL SCIENCE U GUISE.
This is a fizzgig.
This is the Fizzgig.